Friday, 8 January 2010

Most Memorable Short Story: The Nine Mile Walk

We often remember our favorite novel -- for some it's Pride & Prejudice, for some it's Harry Potter, for some it's Gone with the Wind (right, Corra?) -- but do we often think about our favorite short story?

Today while I was traveling, I thought about it (while staring dreamily at my newly purchased novel Mrs. Dalloway - with the gorgeous cover). I knew immediately what it was. And it wasn't something I wrote but it was something I based one of my short stories on.

It's a story called:

The Nine Mile Walk by Harry Kemelman.

It's an old story, written in the sixties, but my father used to read that story to us when we had visitors. (It's his favorite story too.)

Why is the book so memorable?

For a mystery lover like myself, it's the perfect 'armchair deduction' story; a whole skein of deductive reasoning exposing a crime based on a simple overheard phrase.

When Professor Nicky Welt extols the virtues of Logic, his friend (and the narrator) challenges him to explain the meaning of the arbitrarily overheard sentence: “A nine mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain.” From this sentence and very little else, Welt is able to not only deduce facts about who first uttered it, but is able to solve a murder. Although it’s out of print and somewhat scarce, The Nine Mile Walk: The Nicky Welt Stories is a wonderful collection, and copies can be found. (My dad owns one...the book is falling apart but he loves it.)

In recalling that early story, Kemelman wrote (in the introduction to the collection): “I was approached by several publishers who were interested in seeing a full-length manuscript about Nicky Welt. Naturally I was flattered, but at the same time I felt I had to refuse. I felt that the classic tale of detection was essentially a short story.”

What story touched you the way this one did for me?



Lorri S said...

Interesting, I'll have to look this up. Visiting from Book Blogs :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm not familiar with this one, Ann. Thanks for the tip--I'll look it up.

Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

Ann Elle Altman said...

Thanks Lorri and Elizabeth for coming. Yesterday after I wrote this I tried looking this up and it's very difficult to find. I think I will borrow the book from my father to read again.


Martin Edwards said...

I too like this story!
Very different, and darker, yet superb, are 'The Question' by Stanley Ellin, and 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson. Both unforgetttable.

TirzahLaughs said...

The Yellow Wallpaper---I've read it and read it. Is she mad or did they drive her mad? Is it her husband or her doctor.

The image of her creeping in the wallpaper still gives me shivers.

It's part feminist manifesto, part horror story, and part social conscience.

I never explains itself completely but allows the reader to think for themselves.

Truly, I love that story.

The good stories, the best stories stain you a bit so that you can never completely wash them from your memory.


Ann Elle Altman said...

Martin, I will have to look up those two stories. I never used to read short stories much but some of them are so powerful.


Ann Elle Altman said...

Tirz, I've read that story and it's great! I love those types of story too.


Anonymous said...

'The Story of an Hour' by Kate Chopin

'A Sorrowful Woman" be Gail Godwin

Both because they were stories of women struggling against society.

'Soldier's Home' by Ernest Hemingway because it was in this story I learned to respect him.

'Her First Elk' by Rick Bass because it made me cry and taught me something about my father.

'How To Tell A True War Story' by Tim O'OBrien because I had no idea.

~ Corra

from the desk of a writer

Ann Elle Altman said...

Great list of short stories, Corra. It's amazing how so few words can touch so deeply.


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